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WINTER WOODSMOKE Suspended in the winter chill Of Christmas Eve, upon the hill A smoke hung on the red-rimmed sun The bonfire was begun By someone not too far away Some good old boy, stepped out that day Who fancied he might have a fire Build the year a funeral pyre – Steal an hour or two to think Before a Christmas drink.

The winter blossomed in that blaze The dwindling of December days In holly berries brighter then Than anyone remembered when Who knew the wooded hills and lanes Recalling frosted window panes The glacier-minted morning light In cottage bedrooms after night Under a childhood eiderdown Or stood in rough old dressing gown Inherited from older teens. Now, struggling into jumpers, jeans Palmolive soap and tea downstairs The collies by the kitchen chairs Nosing round the a la carte Prior to a seasonal start Soliciting for morsels left And risking sundry kicks for theft. The morning sun, its low-slung rays Splintered through the fuggy haze Of kitchen steam – the pilot lit The boiler grumbling over it A frying-pan, lightly smoking there And Christmas spirit in the air: "Now, chop the kindling, fetch some logs And walk those dogs!"

The smoke fanned out, a lazy blue Across the fleece of oaks, and through The last gold ingots on the birch Beside a greystone church A lone old woman, in that place Arranging flowers, her pensive face Remembering the wartime planes Autumn fields like counterpanes Widowhood and paper chains Lychgates – winter rains.

And in the Old Town, down below At Christmas, all those years ago The glad-rag restaurants and hotels Rich in port-and-pudding smells The lunchtime clatter and the roar Which issued from the kitchen door The chefs and front-of-house at war From starter, through to petit four.

The rich old ducks and tweedy toffs Glugging tinctures for their coughs As waiters minnied round with gin And porters dragged potatoes in A clerk while working out a bill Observed the blaze upon the hill And noted how the skeins of grey Like chiffon scarves, draped on the day. Came drifting, rather gently down All afternoon towards the town To hang by railway bridges there Squatting on the frosty air; A fragrance made of leaves and bark As sweet in that encroaching dark Which covered up the guttering sun, As chestnuts, slightly overdone, Peeled on littered front-room floors When all the lights go on indoors

And in that moment, nothing's said The birds will put themselves to bed And silence reigning in the hedge Will reach the woodland edge And from the dying fire, the crown A shower of sparks, its seeing-down. A ballet for the winter night. Out of darkness into light The dwindling of December days Which blossom in that blaze.


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